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December 04, 2023

An Existential Tale of Childhood 2

By Pranab Ghosh



We have come to know how Victor learnt a dear lesson about the importance of youth and life at a tender age. Born he was in a time that troubled many because of its socio-political-economic atmosphere. Now we will turn to Victor and follow him in his childhood to understand the questions and the problems faced by him and people like him as they struggled with their daily existence.

Much before the change in the political spectrum of Bengal, Victor had gone to the school. Even today he remembers in minute details what had happened on that day. But before telling you about the dilemmas faced by a child, I would like to tell you about the decision his parents took about his schooling.

Both his father and mother were from Bengali middle-class background. His father decided that if Victor was to be a success in life, he would have to learn impeccable English. But the cost of putting a child in a good English medium school was costlier than putting him in a Bengali medium one, and the scenario has not changed even today; only the cost of education, especially in private schools and colleges has increased manifold.

After much deliberation and search, Victor's father zeroed in on a school in the Shyambazaar area of north Kolkata, some fifteen - twenty minutes bus ride away from their home. Given that he had only a meager source of income -- he had no other source of it than the salary he got from his factory -- and that he had to tightly budget his every expense, or else he would risk running out of money at the end of the month; given his economic strength and the problems that accompany it, his decision to give his son the best education that he could afford was a brave one. And not just Victor's father, most of the fathers of his generation coming from the same social milieu shared the same zeal to educate their sons and daughters in the best possible way they could afford, even if it meant a sacrifice of sorts in terms of going for the odd movie at the weekend or visiting family and friends on holidays.

Everything, as always, depended on Victor's mother, who after spending the bulk of her day doing household work had to sacrifice that weekly excursion that every young mother looks forward to. She turned out to be an angel and smilingly accepted that sacrifice, and became a wizard in running the household with limited money.

In spite of several lockouts in Victor's father's factory, young Victor never had to face the pangs of hunger or suffer from any sense of insecurity or had to sacrifice his childish but limited desire of buying a new rubber ball or a cricket bat, with which he would keep himself engaged in the after-school hours till such time he was old enough to register in the sporting club of his locality.

Victor grew up in a protected environment where his parents, in spite of their limited financial resources, never allowed Victor to feel the pangs of penury. And Victor too, by the grace of God, as his parents would admit in private, had no demands for the odd expensive toys or the costly chocolates that would have otherwise made his parents feel guilty for not being able to buy him. Victor never had given his parents any opportunity to feel guilty or that they were too poor to rear a child in the right way.

Victor, in effect, helped his parents fight their economic weaknesses and yet give their son the best education they could afford.


Childhood 1.1

There was up to class IV in that school, but there was also the promise made by the school authorities that they would, over a period of four years, upgrade the school to the Xth standard. So Victor's father felt assured, more so because the cost of education in this school was not particularly higher when compared to other English medium high schools. Moreover, the quality of education as imparted in the school was impeccable as per the conversations he had with the parents, guardians and even the locals of the area. Not to speak of the teachers of the school.

Now back to Victor and his first day in school. He was woken up early. He bathed, was fed his meal, dressed in the school uniform and was school-bound with his father. In a local studio at Shyambazaar that had opened its shop early in the day, his father got him snapped. The photograph with that hint of smile on the lips of young Victor was for a very long time his treasured treasure. His father later, seeing the particular liking Victor had for that photograph, got it framed and hung it in the drawing room, which in the mornings and evenings, provided his father had no visitors, doubled up as his study. Even as a grown up boy when he had friends visiting him and they chatted in the same drawing room with the door ajar, much as his father did when his friends came calling, that photograph, somewhat discoloured, clung to the wall and got appreciated by friends, who never failed to compare the child with the young man facing them.

Victor's father used to feel proud for the small gesture that he did years ago and its ever increasing emotional impact on his son. Where the photograph is now Victor does not know, but would surely like his young, very young daughter to take a look at it and perhaps compare with what she sees in front of her. But that would be a different story. The day Victor finds that photograph and puts his daughter to the little test that his friends so successfully passed would be a day to remember if not celebrate. Not because of him or his daughter or the photograph, but because of the fact that his father got him snapped years ago when he embarked on a long journey. A journey to explore and learn. A journey that would teach him to live and struggle in this universe for his daily meals; a journey as many like him had successfully taken before him and will take after him; a journey from darkness to light; a journey from everything that is false to the ultimate truth; a journey to acquire knowledge and truth. A journey that would always make him stay grateful to his father for the precious little things that he used to do for him till the last day he breathed.

Memories can be very painful, even those that are happy and joyous. Victor felt it as he grew up and feels it daily as he thinks of his father and dida (grandmother). Enough of diversions. Now first day, first show in school.

You must be thinking that Victor, the brave, must have had a ball on his first day in school. Quite the contrary. Much like his daughter, years later, he cried his heart out the moment his father disappeared behind the closing gate of the school campus. He yearned to be with him, his mother, and granny, whose influence on Victor had been and still is enormous. In fact, he behaved in a naughty way kicking at teachers offering him glucose and chocolates and even throwing his favourite nutties away when offered. He simply would not forget to cry and demand he be sent home to his mother.

But by the afternoon he had got adjusted to the environment and in fact, when his mother came to collect him, he was imploring her to wait for a minute or two as he chatted with his newfound friend. Needless to say, Victor became devoted to school from the second day onwards and would even cry if he, for some unputdownable reason, was not allowed to go to school once in a while.

Now the existential question is, would you ask for proper counseling of a child's going to school for the first time? Victor's parents did talk extensively to him before readying him for the journey. But that apparently did not work at least for the first couple of hours. But need not get so worried, some of you would-be parents. Cry babies must on the first day, otherwise how will they develop the love-hate relationship with their schools? I hope in your cases love prevails in that relationship as it was in the case of Victor.

Article © Pranab Ghosh. All rights reserved.
Published on 2019-12-23
Image(s) are public domain.
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